People forget, but the Saint Louis Billikens are the reigning A10 Tournament champions. Tonight at 6pm ET/5pm CT, they face off against the current A10 regular season champions, in one of the Billikens’ toughest tests of the year. This will be the second matchup between the two teams, with SLU winning 70-59 at Chaifetz in the first meeting. That was a hard-fought game that was closer than the final score reflected, and we’re likely in for another great game. St. Bonaventure is likely a tournament team, and Mark Schmidt has his Bonnies looking very good right now. The Bonnies are coming off a 75-59 win over Duquesne that was just as impressive as SLU’s win over UMass, and while Bona doesn’t have much in the way of depth, its top five guys are as good as any in the conference.
Given that St. Bonaventure runs essentially a four-guard line-up, it will be interesting to see how much Travis Ford goes to a two-big lineup. He will likely continue to start Jimmy Bell Jr, as SLU has won three straight since Ford inserted him into the starting line-up. It seems unlikely SLU play with two bigs as often as they did yesterday, as it’s not a particularly great matchup with Bonaventure. However, it’s instrumental to establishing French down low early in the game, and if SLU can do that, it can help propel the rest of the offense. UMass gave French a ton of attention from the start yesterday, and it helped open up a lot of shots for Yuri Collins and Jordan Goodwin.
Goodwin and Collins need to continue their strong play as well. SLU’s offense looked as good as it has since the COVID pause as the pair combined for 35 points, 19 rebounds and 9 assists. Both struck a great balance between scoring and distributing. If Goodwin’s shot is falling like it has in the past couple of games, he is nearly impossible to defend. Collins also needs to continue to look to score when the opportunity presents itself. It’s great that he is so unselfish, but he sometimes is too pass-first. He didn’t have that issue against the Minutemen, scoring 17 points. Collins is much harder to defend if the guy guarding him is worried about Yuri putting a shot up as well as passing.
Javonte Perkins is obviously still SLU’s go-to scorer, but he is much more effective when SLU has multiple players who are threats to score. For someone who is as good moving off-ball as Perkins, this can make a huge difference as it will make it harder for Bona to key in on him. Perkins also needs to continue to get to the line and build on his 11-13 performance at the line yesterday. Perkins has an incredible mid-range game, but when he isn’t settling for jumpers, he’s much more dangerous.
Literally just made it look too smooth to be a poster pic.twitter.com/U5xxwIBoW1
— Jack Godar (@JackGodar) March 5, 2021
Osunniyi is the best rim protector in the A10 and he had 5 blocks. SLU will have a tough time finishing down low against him, so hitting jump shots will be important. Perkins and Gibson Jimerson are going to need to find open looks, and Goodwin and Collins need to continue to be confident in their jumpers. However, SLU should still attack the rim, because if Osunniyi gets in foul trouble, this team is not deep at all. Taking OO out of the game would make a huge impact on the game.
St. Bonaventure only goes 5 deep, but all 5 starters are absolute gamers. Against Duquesne, Kyle Lofton had 11, Jalen Adaway had 12, Osunniyi had 18, Jaren Holmes had 14 and Dominick Welch had 18. Every starter is a threat and SLU needs to be very strong defensively across the board. Denying Lofton penetration will be important, and they also need to neutralize Osunniyi. However, the Bonnies’ lack of depth may mean they will be feeling the effects of a second game in 2 days more than the Billikens. Holmes played 30 minutes, Osunniyi and Welch played 38, and Adaway and Lofton played 40. Meanwhile Goodwin was the only player who played the entire game for SLU, though Perkins played 36 and Collins played 38.
SLU has depth it can rely on if any of the starters start to look tired. Fred Thatch has been one of the team’s best players over the past few games, and he needs to continue his strong play of late. Thatch has been scoring, rebounding and defending up a storm lately, and the 6’3, 210 guard could be an absolute load to handle. Like Goodwin and French, Thatch is the type of player who can wear out an opponent with his physicality too, and Bonventure could have a hard time dealing with him.
Marten Linssen will also play a key role, spelling French. He’s been really solid the entire season, providing Ford with a reliable back-up big man and delivering quality minutes in every game. SLU will need another strong game from him. Also, don’t be surprised if Terrence Hargrove and Gibson Jimerson get more play time than the 5 and 2 minutes they logged against UMass, respectively. SLU can use its depth to create favorable match-ups against the Bonnies and wear them down, and every edge can make a difference in a game like this.
This is the biggest game of the season for SLU. If they lose, they are likely out of the NCAA Tournament picture, but a win would give them a Q1 victory, and, more importantly, puts them in the A10 Tournament final. The stakes couldn’t be higher for SLU and I can’t wait to see how they respond to the moment tonight.